Chapter 9 begins a comparison between the sacrifices of the old covenant and the sacrifice of Christ. Having told us in 8:13 that the new covenant made the old covenant obsolete, he compares them to show us how and why.
This passage briefly describes the arrangement of the old covenant tabernacle. Remember that God gave Moses very specific instructions on how to build it and furnish it. God told Israel, through Moses, how to worship him and where to approach him.
The tabernacle had two parts: the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. Only priests entered the Tabernacle. There was a curtain, or veil, at the entrance woven of blue, purple and scarlet yarns woman with fine linen. (Exodus 26:36-37)
Inside the first section, or the Holy Place, were the lampstand, table and bread of the Presence.
The lampstand was made of gold. It had six branches, three on each side of the center lamp, so that there were seven lamps burning to light the tent. (Exodus 25:31-39)
The table was made of wood and overlaid with gold. (Exodus 25:23-30) The bread on the Presence was placed there before God.
The second section was called the Most Holy Place. A second curtain, or vail, separated the two sections. It was like the first vail, but also had cherubim on it. (9:3)
Inside the Most Holy Place were the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant. The cover of the ark was gold, including two cherubim whose wings arched over the mercy seat. God’s presence dwelt above the mercy seat.
When the priest burned incense on the altar of incense, the smoke drifted up to and covered the mercy seat, where the presence of God dwelled. Incense usually symbolizes prayers. For example, Revelation 5:8 says those bowing down before Jesus held golden bowls of incense “which are the prayers of the saints”.
Revelation 8:3 tells of an angel standing before an altar burning incense with the prayers of the saints.
Inside the ark were the tablets of the covenant, the jar of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded. The “tablets of the covenant” are the two stone tablets with the ten commandments written on them by God.
On top of the ark was the mercy seat, which had the two cherubim covering it.
THE IMPERFECT SERVICE OF THE PRIESTS
This section tells us the priests went regularly into the first section to perform their duties. (6) But only the high priest went into the second section and only once per year. (7) Even then he had to take blood to offer sacrifice for himself and for the people. This was the manner of worship commanded by God.
In verse 8, the writer interprets for us what this means. Notice he attributes this to the Holy Spirit. It means that the way into the presence of God was not open as long as the place of sacrifice still existed. In other words, as long as the first covenant was in place with its rules and regulations, the ordinary person could not enter into the presence of God. Only his representative, the high priest, could do it and even he only once per year.
The veils represented the separation between God and man caused by the sin of man. God thrusted Adam and Even from his presence in the Garden when they sinned. He continued the separation in the building of the tabernacle. But then he demonstrated that the separation was ended by Christ, when at Christ’s death, Mark 15:38 says “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
The writer also points out for us, in verses 9-10, that all of these sacrifices and ceremonies could not cleanse the conscience of the worshiper. They just met God’s requirements until the “time of reformation”. (NIV=”time of the new order”) Again we see that the Old Covenant was not meant to be permanent. It was to keep God’s people until the time of the New Covenant. Paul echoes this truth in Galatians 3:19.
THE PERFECT SACRIFICE OF CHRIST
In contrast to the imperfect sacrifice of animals in a temporary covenant, Christ made a perfect sacrifice that brought about a permanent covenant and redemption.
These verses tell us that Jesus, as the high priest of the new covenant, entered into God’s presence in heaven and offered his blood as a sacrifice, obtaining permanent redemption for believers. In addition, he cleansed our consciences from our dead works to serve our living God.
The “greater and more perfect tent” refers to the area surrounding God’s throne in heaven. It is not made by man and not of this creation, meaning it is not of earth but heaven.
Jesus entered the greater tent as our high priest. The image he means to convey is Jesus coming into God’s presence in heaven for our Day of Atonement. He entered the tent and sacrificed himself to make atonement for our sins.
Verse 12 tells us he entered once for all. The old covenant high priest entered once per year and offered a sacrifice of blood. Jesus entered the heavenly holy place (where God dwells) one time and accomplished permanent atonement for the sins of all who will believe in him.
The sacrifice of the old covenant priests was the blood of animals, but the sacrifice of Jesus was his own blood. Ephesians 1:7 says “In him we have redemption through his blood...”. Redemption is the payment of a purchase price or ransom. His blood pays the price of our sin. The price of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)
While the sacrifice of animals brought temporary sanctification to the old covenant believers, the sacrifice of Christ, the perfect sacrifice, purifies us completely.
Notice the Trinitarian aspect here. The Son, through the Spirit, offered himself to the Father.
Also notice the fulfillment of the promise of Jeremiah 31, which the writer quoted in Chapter 8. God said he would put his laws in our minds and write them on our hearts. Here he says, in verse 14, Christ purified our conscience from dead works to serve a living God.
The believer quits working for salvation, realizing he cannot meet the requirements of the law. But when he places his trust in Christ, he is changed so that he wants to serve a living God. He wants to please God by conforming himself as much as possible to the character of God. God’s law is written on his heart.
We are called to serve the living God when we are called into salvation. The idea that you can say some words and receive a “get out of hell free” card and then get on with your life is not Biblical.
Salvation involves coming into the service of the King of Kings, in believe, in self denial, in serving others, in separation from the world and in worship.